Elf on the Shelf is Santa's mischievous helper

The Fresno BeeDecember 19, 2012 

Elves are taking over homes this holiday season and doing all sorts of silly things.

In the wee hours of the night, some have spelled out "Be good" with Frosted Cheerios on a kitchen counters, dangled from Christmas garland in the living rooms and made a snow angel in spilled sugar.

Elves can be elves, right?

An elf phenomenon is taking place this holiday season through the best-selling children's holiday book that has been around for awhile -- "The Elf on the Shelf -- A Christmas Tradition."

It was originally written as a poem by Carol V. Aebersold, telling about a little elf, one of Santa's helpers who perched on a shelf to watch children's behavior at Christmas time. The Elf flew nightly to the North Pole to report to Santa about the children, then returned -- but never to the same spots in homes.

Mischievous elves do that, you know.

Chanda A. Bell helped turn her mother's poem into the book, "The Elf on the Shelf -- A Christmas Tradition." Another daughter, Christa Pitts, helped create the Elf doll. Within seven years of the Elf's birth, he's built a website, Twitter account and $16 million in sales.

A boxed gift set -- featuring the book and Elf doll -- has been flying off the shelves at bookstores and department stores.

At Barnes & Noble in Fresno, sales are on their way to nearly tripling this holiday season. In previous years, the store only sold the boxed gift set after Thanksgiving, the traditional start to the holiday shopping season. (The book advises parents to help the Elf find new spots in their homes daily up to Christmas Day -- and help their children see where the Elf turns up and maybe his silliness.)

This year, Barnes & Noble planned to sell the boxed gift sets throughout the shopping season. Cost is $29.95.

"It's a phenomena," says Ashley Langford, community relations manager at Barnes & Noble in Fresno. "I've had parents say it's been a good experience for their family."

Parents say it's a big commitment to help the Elf get around in their homes.

"It's a lot of work, but fun," says Andrea Waters, a Clovis mother of three girls -- Melia, 4, Makena, 10, and Kayla, 15. "With the Internet, websites and social media, you get some great ideas. So many other moms are posting pictures on Facebook."

Waters, however, woke up at 3 a.m. one day, remembering she forgot to help Buddy, the name her daughters gave the Elf.

"You're in a panic," Waters says.

Buddy has everybody laughing with the places he turns up -- and the things he does.

He drew mustaches and beards of family members in framed photos. How did they know it was him? Buddy was holding a marker pen.

Buddy also has tied up the girls' underwear -- and toiled-papered the Christmas tree.

Elves can be elves.

Waters says she tries to live up to her parental responsibility in answering her daughters' questions about Buddy, especially the 15-year-old's.

"I think she has an inkling," Waters says. "I just tell her that it's sad when kids don't believe. At 36, I still believe. It's just magical for kids to believe."

Tiana Tune, a Fresno mother of two girls, ages 3 and 5 months, says she and the girls are having fun with their Elf -- Smiley.

She and husband Bryan make sure one of them helps Smiley get around.

Smiley has read books with older daughter Hailey's Barbie dolls and sang into microphones. He also hung a new stocking for Madelyn, the 5-month-old.

In helping Smiley, Tiana Tune says she and her husband are "trying to one-up each other."

She says the children's grandparents had an interesting comment about Smiley watching over the girls.

"They say, 'Basically, he's a snitch, tattling on the kids,' " Tiana Tune says. "I say, 'That's part of it.' But when Hailey is throwing a tantrum, all I have to say is, 'Smiley is watching,' and she'll stop and say, 'I'm sorry, Smiley.' "

The Elf isn't confined to homes. He is turning up -- and having fun -- at businesses who see a lot of children and other places.

At The Little Gym of Fresno, where about 400 children are enrolled in classes, Flip the Elf has climbed the Christmas tree, sat on festive garland and next to a snowman in a wreath decoration.

"The kids enjoy coming into the gym and trying to find him," says Crystal Backowski, owner of The Little Gym of Fresno. "It's just so much fun [helping] find a place for him."

At Kiddie Kampus, Arthur the Elf finds different spots in the Christmas tree to "make sure the children have their listening ears on" so he can give good reports to Santa.

"The kids love it," says Julie Armstrong, director of Kiddie Kampus. "They're always looking for him when they come in here.

"The best part is seeing the kids, how they light up when they see it."

There also are Elf spin-offs in Fresno.

Petunia's Place, a children's bookstore, is offering the Santa's Little Helper elf doll. A flier tells of the elf's special job at Christmas time: "He sits on a shelf watching over you! He goes back to Santa each night to say who's been naughty or nice each winter day. So make sure to find him in a new place each day."

Jean Fennacy, co-owner of Petunia's Place, says the elf doll -- who isn't mischievous -- is popular.

"We like the twist on it," she says. "The excitement for children is every day. They hunt around the house looking for it. There's inquisitiveness and adventure in finding it."

The reporter can be reached at rorozco@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6304.

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